6 Things That Were Somehow Not Completely Ruined by Rob Liefeld’s Involvement
Let’s be clear: while our purpose here is not to heap scorn upon Rob Liefeld, we’re not going to defend his career, either. Because his artwork? Execrable. His writing? Laughable. His work ethic? Dubious. Ability to play with others? Highly questionable. To put it mildly, there are more than a few reasons why, as his Wikipedia entry delicately puts it, “Liefeld’s name has become something of a lightning rod in the industry” — just as there are more than a few people out there willing to tell you all about them. But! Fairness and the law of averages demand we acknowledge that Liefeld, who is coming up on his 30th year(!) in the business, has been attached to some projects over the years in which he can justifiably take some pride. Exhibit A: Deadpool, a character he first dreamed up for an issue of The New Mutants back in 1990. The “merc with a mouth” (seen in his first-ever appearance here) started out as just another typical Liefeld brainstorm, with all the pouches, posturing and poaching that term suggests (Liefeld swiped the essence of DC’s Deathstroke, a mercenary with super-agility and super-healing powers, changed his name from “Slade Wilson” to “Wade Wilson” and gave his mask two eye-holes instead of one). But over time — and after some fleshing out by Marvel’s writers, starting with New Mutants scripter Fabian Nicieza — Deadpool evolved into a highly reliable source of entertainment since then, amassing enough of a fan base to score appearances in the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series and 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Mock Liefeld if we must (and yes, we must), but no one can take this character’s continued success away from him.
2. Hawk & Dove (1988 mini-series)
Published “back when Rob Liefeld could still draw,” as one critic put it, this was the title that re-introduced the Hawk & Dove team to DC readers. The first Hawk & Dove (created by Steve Ditko in the late ’60s) were teenage brothers who embodied the opposing forces of aggression and passive resistance; after Dove was killed off in 1985, Hawk bounced around DC’s titles as an increasingly loose cannon. The husband-and-wife writing team of Karl and Barbara Kesel came up with the idea of a young woman receiving Dove’s powers and helping restore balance to Hawk’s life, resulting in one of the more entertaining (and hugely underrated) superhero books of the late 1980s. This five-issue mini-series was one of Liefeld’s first big assignments; in his zeal to impress his editor, he rotated his artwork sideways for some pages that depicted a “chaos dimension” (the layout was rejected and his artwork cut-and-pasted into a more conventional alignment before inking was completed). It’s a great story offering a fresh take on one of DC’s lesser-known duos, made all the better by the artwork of an up-and-coming artist who, with a little more patience and polishing, could have been one of the greats.
3. “Men!” (Uncanny X-Men #245)
In the fall of 1988, DC published Invasion!, a crossover event that saw a coalition of aggressive aliens led by the scheming (and extra-toothy) Dominators invade Earth and demand the surrender of all its super-heroes; a few months later, X-Men writer Chris Claremont penned this tongue-in-cheek parody in response. Most of the jokes only make sense if you were a comic fan at the time and had read the Invasion! mini-series, but Claremont managed to sneak in a few jabs at his own work, too (witness the “Jean Bomb” above, a weapon in the form of a red-haired woman with the “power to fatally disrupt any and all relationships”). Liefeld was tapped to pencil this issue, which seems entirely appropriate in retrospect, given how Invasion! was drawn by McFarlane and Liefeld’s art could be convincingly described as a parody of McFarlane’s style. (And suddenly I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if Liefeld’s younger self shopped his sketches around the offices of Mad magazine instead of Marvel…)
4. Image Comics
Could Image have happened without Liefeld? Probably. Would it have been the same without him? Definitely not. Formed in 1992 when seven of Marvel’s top-selling artists (Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Eric Larsen, Jim Valentino, Whilce Portacio) decided to strike out on their own, Image was (and remains to this day) a company where creators would own the rights to their work. After a few years of finding its ground (no big surprise when a company is founded on enthusiasm first and business management second), Image eventually became the success its founders had envisioned, growing to become the first North American comic publisher in decades to pose a serious challenge to Marvel and DC. Spawn, Savage Dragon, The Walking Dead, Invincible, Astro City, The Maxx, Powers… it’s hard not to feel a little bit of gratitude towards anyone, even Liefeld, who played some small part in making those books possible.
5. Alan Moore’s Supreme
Not for nothing is Liefeld known for the shameless way he rips off other creators’ characters with his own thinly disguised versions; we could take up an entire semester discussing the reasons why the ghost of William Moulton Marston should be stalking Liefeld for publishing the adventures of Glory. Supreme started out as a “to the ex-treeeeme!” version of Superman, with all the nonsensical plotting and steroidal excess that readers expected from a Rob Liefeld production… and it stayed like that until the 41st issue, when Alan Moore (of Swamp Thing, Watchmen and V for Vendetta fame) stepped in to script. By that time thoroughly disenchanted by his experiences working with DC, Moore agreed to take on Supreme on the condition he could throw out everything that had previously been done with the character. For the next 16 issues (for which Moore won an Eisner Award), Moore drew heavily from the Silver Age Superman mythos, going to metafictional places he would explore further in subsequent titles like Tom Strong and Promethea. So it’s not too outrageous to suggest that anyone (like me) who enjoyed that particular stretch of Moore’s career owes some gratitude to Liefeld for helping make it happen (then again, after reading Liefeld’s churlish comments about working with Moore, you might want to keep those grateful thoughts to yourself…).
6. Brandon Graham’s Prophet
Liefeld’s Prophet, produced in the heady days of 1993 when anything seemed possible for the young Levi’s spokesmodel, told the story of a homeless man who volunteered for secret super-solider experiments during World War II and oh yeah so that’s why it only lasted 10 issues. Fast forward to 2011’s New York Comic Con, where it was announced that Liefeld’s line of Extreme Studios comics would return with the revival of five titles, including Prophet. Brandon Graham’s bold take on the character earned him plaudits aplenty, with one critic saying “the main lesson that Marvel and DC can take away from the success of Prophet is that the best way to revitalize a property is by finding people who create good comics and allowing them to do whatever the hell they want with it.” (Note to DC: Hiring Liefeld to take over some of your New 52 titles is the opposite of what that guy was talking about. And what does it say when Liefeld, of all people, shows more business smarts than DC executives…?)